Coronavirus: China hopes for breakthrough using HIV drugs while some resort to traditional cures
BEIJING The rapidly spreading virus in China and a shortage of medical resources are prompting people to resort to unorthodox ways to obtain treatment, with some appealing to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) patients and unauthorised importers for medicine.
Chinese health authorities have said there is not yet any effective cure for the virus, which has killed more than 560 people.
Although there is no evidence from clinical trials, China's National Health Commission said the drug lopinavir/ritonavir can be used for coronavirus patients, without specifying how they might help.
That triggered a rush, specifically for Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, which is drugmaker AbbVie's off-patent version of lopinavir/ritonavir and the only version approved for sale in China. It is used to treat and prevent HIV and the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and AbbVie said last month that China was testing it as a treatment for coronavirus symptoms.
Mr Devy, a 38-year-old in Shandong province, who did not want to give his family name for fear of retaliation, said he was among hundreds who contacted people with HIV to ask for medicine.
Although he had not recently travelled to Hubei province or Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, he grew worried that he had somehow caught the coronavirus after a doctor's visit found symptoms of pneumonia.
He also had other symptoms such as fever and nausea.
He heard from a friend that an HIV-positive man nicknamed "Brother Squirrel" was offering Kaletra for free to people suspected to have the new coronavirus. He received about 30 pills.
Even after he was finally tested negative for the virus, Mr Devy still believed obtaining Kaletra was the right choice. He said: "You can only try various things to save yourself, right?"
The rush has also opened up moneymaking opportunities.
Mr Gatsby Fang, a cross-border buying agent, said he ordered generic versions of Kaletra from India on Jan 23. He sold each bottle for 600 yuan (S$119), bringing in 200 yuan to 300 yuan in profit on each.
His stock was sold out by Jan 25. Some clients ordered 600 tablets at once, he said.
Some traditional Chinese medicine treatments have also seen a boost in demand.
There is no evidence that such treatments help in fighting the coronavirus, said Dr Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation's representative in China. - REUTERS